By Christine Gianas Weinheimer EBS CONTRIBUTOR
From the rainbow shades of hot springs, to the multi-hued Canyon walls, a full spectrum of colors can be discovered year-round in Yellowstone National Park. But the park is at its most colorful in summer when wildflowers burst forth in abundance. Yellowstone’s peak wildflower season usually starts in June and extends through mid-July.
For some tips on experiencing the summer wildflower display in Yellowstone, we checked with Robert Petty, Senior Director of Education for the Yellowstone Forever Institute. He says if you’d like to admire a variety of blooms, visit various habitats.
“Yellowstone is made up of diverse habitats, and the wildflowers you’ll find within them are all different,” explained Petty. “For example, glacier lilies live in conifer forests at higher elevation. Other wildflowers are found in drier areas, or near thermal features.”
When in the park’s geyser basins you’ll see flowers, such as the Rocky Mountain fringed gentian, that prefer the steamy habitat surrounding geysers and hot springs. While passing through any area that has recently experienced wildfire, you might see pinkish-purple fireweed, so named because it is one of the first new plants to appear after a fire.
Petty suggests that a best bet to see plentiful wildflowers is the park’s Northern Range, including Mammoth and the Lamar Valley. The dry, sagebrush landscape is hospitable to a huge variety, such as the large pink blossoms of bitterroot—the state flower of Montana—and evening primrose, which only blooms at night.
Dunraven Pass, between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon, also boasts a wide array of flowers. “The bursts of blooms are highly visible along the road,” Petty said. “Look for lupine, paintbrush and spectacular yellow fields of arrowleaf balsamroot, a member of the sunflower family.”
While you’ll see slopes awash in color as you drive around the park, Petty says that the true charm of wildflowers will mostly be revealed to those on foot. “It’s the type of experience where you really want to be out of your car and on a trail to fully appreciate the beauty.”
He recommends a few hikes to see wildflowers up close: Garnet Hill Loop Trail near Tower Junction; Trout Lake Trail in Lamar Valley; Beaver Ponds Trail near Mammoth; and Mount Washburn Trail off of Dunraven Pass.
Especially if you are less familiar with the region’s wildflowers, a guidebook will help greatly with identification. But be aware that collecting any type of plant is against park regulations, so enjoy and photograph the wildflowers, but don’t pick them.
“The great thing about wildflowers is that they are all over the park and don’t take that much effort to see,” Petty added. “While you are busy looking for grizzlies and wolves, don’t forget to stop and see the amazing flora around you.”
Want to learn more about Yellowstone’s wildflowers? The Yellowstone Forever Institute will offer a field seminar, “Meandering Through Wildflowers,” July 5-8. Visit yellowstone.org to learn more.
Christine Gianas Weinheimer lives in Bozeman and has been writing about Yellowstone for 17 years.